Emily J. Flies

Health ecologist. Spatial Scientist. Communicator.

My Research

Postdoctoral research

Urban health

The global urban population is growing by over 1 million people every week. While in some ways, city dwellers are healthier than their rural counterparts, there are numerous health conditions associated with urban living (e.g. asthma, allergies and potentially autoimmune conditions). I want to understand how city living and urbanization affects human health and why it has those impacts. If we can better understand the ways in which cities impact health, we will be better equipped to provide a healthy urban environment. I am interested predominantly in the physical environment of cities, including the micro- and macro-scopic organisms living there. I co-lead the Healthy Landscapes Research Group, a dynamic, interdisciplinary team in Hobart, Tasmania to investigate these and other linkages between human and environmental health.

Global food demand

The simultaneous rise in the global population and individual food consumption (due to rising incomes), presents significant challenges for our agricultural industry. I am interested in what we can expect future food demands to be and how society can attempt to meet that rising demand.

To find out more about my postdoctoral research, check out my Publications Page!

PhD Thesis

Arboviruses in urban and peri-urban South Australia: an eco-epidemiology approach

Broadly, my PhD research investigated the ecological factors related to patterns of mosquito-borne virus (arbovirus) activity and human infection risk. I approached this question using a mixture of field, lab and statistical modelling techniques. I hope that my research will give us insight into the factors driving mosquito-borne disease so that we can reduce or prevent human arbovirus infections.

Field work

During my field work, I collected and analyzed three main types of samples: mosquitoes, viruses and blood.

Over the course of two field seasons, I collected and killed tens of thousands of mosquitoes (you’re welcome). By identifying these mosquitoes under the microscope, I could report the species and diversity of mosquitoes at each of ~100 trapping locations.

To determine whether any of these mosquitoes were transmitting infectious viruses (arboviruses) like Ross River virus, I adapted a technique to sample the mosquitoes saliva. I took cards, which are embedded with virus preserving chemical (FTA© cards) and coated them in honey. The mosquitoes fed on the honey and in the process, spit virus onto the card (if they were infected). Then I tested the cards to determine if any of the mosquitoes were transmitting an arbovirus. My work was the first to adapt this honey-baited FTA© card technique to a broad-scale surveillance program.

Throughout my field work (and the work of others), our lab collected blood-fed mosquitoes (mosquitoes that have fed on an animal and have blood visible in their gut). I analyzed the blood to determine what species the mosquito was feeding on.

Lab work

In the lab, I identified my mosquitoes under a microscope. Then, for any blood-fed mosquitoes, I extracted the DNA from the blood in the mosquito’s gut. I amplified a DNA fragment using PCR, gel electrophoresis and genetic sequencing using universal primers that I developed to recognize any vertebrate’s blood, including marsupials. I then matched these DNA sequences to vertebrate species living in South Australia.

Computer modelling

Using a combination of statistical modelling and Geographic Information System (GIS) spatial modelling techniques, I analyzed my data. In addition to the mosquito, virus and blood data I collected myself, I accessed publicly available data to characterize the environments surrounding my traps. I was interested in how the biodiversity of animals, socio-economic factors, density of camp grounds (a proxy for outdoor activity) and greenness of the environment would impact the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases.

To find out more about what I discovered, check out my Publications Page!

Master’s Thesis

In my masters thesis, I examined the health response of wild-caught American robins and grey catbirds, to a tick-borne bacterium, Anaplasma phagocytophilus. To achieve this feat, I captured over 40 birds and brought them into a level-2 BSL captive facility. I fed and cared for the birds for up to 6 months while exposing them to infected and uninfected ticks and monitoring their physical response.

To find out more about what I discovered, check out my Publications Page!